Waste Labour and Infrastructural Citizenship: Promises and Perils of State-led Community Waste Initiatives in South African Cities

  • Kathleen Stokes

Student thesis: Phd


South African household waste management operates under a paradigm of cooperative governance where authority is distributed across various scales of government, business, and society. Municipalities are deemed responsible for providing waste management services, with many pursuing strategies that simultaneously seek to devolve obligations while extracting greater value from waste materials. Within this context, state-led community waste initiatives have become an increasingly common feature of urban household waste management systems in South African cities. This thesis studies the discursive and material relations surrounding state-led community initiatives in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni. Speaking to scholarly debates surrounding responsibility, urban infrastructures, citizenships, and labour (Fredericks, 2018; Lemanski, 2017; Buire & Staeheli, 2017; McFarlane & Silver, 2016; Miraftab, 2004; Barnett, 2008, 2011; Massey, 2004), I question how these initiatives promote and assign community responsibility for waste management, and what this means for infrastructural governance, participants’ livelihoods, and state-society relations. Research is based on textual analysis of state and media documentation, and semi-structured interviews undertaken in 2017/18 with government officials, waste sector representatives, and community participants. While seemingly distinct, community waste initiatives are connected through a shared framing of waste labour as a civic duty and economic opportunity. Government officials and professionals view these initiatives an opportunity to fulfil socio-economic obligations while addressing capability issues and devolving responsibility and risk. Community participants do not question this framing, but eventually reflect calls for responsibility back to the state. In turn, state-led community waste programmes do reconfigure understandings of responsibility for waste labour, yet they have also pointed to enacting and negotiating labour-based manifestations of infrastructural citizenship.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Ward (Supervisor) & Erik Swyngedouw (Supervisor)


  • urban infrastructure
  • citizenship
  • labour
  • South Africa
  • waste management

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